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A great new idea

I think the developers of this site have hit on a good idea. I have recently been thinking about the need for a web site with a blog, forum and perhaps a wiki (in this case a database) that users can contribute to. There is really no other site that I have seen like this which could potentially offer one stop shopping for the latest updates on developments in C&I around the world. I believe that self-organizing spaces such as this where the indicator community can contribute is an excellent way to facilitate additional collaboration in the field - indeed potentially one of the most powerful tools available.

In this post, I'd like to raise a few ideas on where this site could go to next, and I look forward to any responses.

First, I am not sure the Forum is working properly. It appears like a new forum entry is generated every time a new indicator is described or a source added. The result is a couple of hundred forum topics with no discussion under them. It may be wise to clear this out and simply ask users to initiate their own forum topics when they see fit.

Second, the blog is interesting and it is not clear to me how it works - I mean, I know what a blog is and maintain a couple myself, but the set up here is new to me. It appears that individuals create their own blogs and that the newest entries from all blogs get posted to the intro blog page, which provides a compilation of all new content. Currently, there appears to be only two blog entries on the intro blog page. I guess older entries disappear after a certain time limit. It would be nice if there was an archive or some way to go back through the compiled blog entries in addition to going to each individual blog.

Third, I think it is possible that the focus of this site, if it gets a critical mass of participants, could easily shift away from the database of indicators and towards the blogs and forum as a source of up to date information and a place for less experienced users to ask technical and other questions that could be answered by experts in the community (or at least these aspects could become as important as the database). Given this, the developers may want to rethink the name of the site from "indicator database" to something more encompassing of the full suite of user added content - indicators, blog entries, forum questions and answers, etc.

Fourth, there has been a lot of discussion in the international community about harmonizing terms and definitions between C&I processes. In this case, harmonization is understood to mean making existing concepts of C&I and related approaches to monitoring, assessment and reporting , which use the same or closely related concepts and approaches, comparable and consistent (as opposed to standardization, which is understood by many to mean the adoption of uniform definitions or prescriptions). This includes indicators, definitions of terms, parameter classifications, data collection protocols, meta-data standards, database management, assessment procedures as well as reporting formats and procedures. The database on this site could be a great resource for harmonizing terms and definitions. However, in addition to a database of indicators, the developers may also wish to consider a database or wiki of terms and definitions.

Fifth, the developers may wish to expand the first goal of this site to reach out beyond just researchers and to include the broader range of experts and users.

Sixth, in its purest form, peer production - which this site is striving to encourage - is a way of producing goods and services that relies entirely on self-organizing, egalitarian communities of individuals who come together voluntarily to produce a shared outcome. In reality, peer production mixes elements of hierarchy and self-organization and relies on meritocratic principles of organization - i.e., the most skilled and experienced members of the community provide leadership and help integrate contributions from the community. In the early stages, this site's developers need to be very active in taking on this leadership role and encouraging others to do likewise. For example, a core group of experienced users needs to monitor the forum so that if a question is asked, some kind of response shows up quickly - even if only to give a partial answer. Otherwise, many users will not see the value. Over time, as the community expands, new leaders will emerge to take on this role.

Finally, I wish the developers lots of success with this site. I like to look at the blog http://googlemapsmania.blogspot.com/ as an example of a blog that really took off. The guy in Toronto who started this blog initially began by scouring the internet for new and innovative uses of Google Maps. Now, the site is so popular that whenever a developer develops a new application for Google Maps, they email the blog owner so he can post it and the blog has become one of the best sources of info on Google Maps applications on the web. With a little luck and lot's of hard work, that could happen here with this site.

P.S. >> See the forum entry on this topic at http://www.sfmindicators.org/s_bridges_blog_entry_a_great_new_idea to contribute your thoughts on this.